01/13/2014 2:27PM

Tampa Bay Downs: Sienkewicz getting acclimated


OLDSMAR, Fla. – Bill Sienkewicz, who is stabled at Tampa Bay Downs for the first time this season, just completed his most successful year after making the transition from assistant starter to trainer. And it should be no great surprise that he was able to do so since a number of individuals who began as assistant starters have gone on to have standout careers training Thoroughbreds.

“There’s no question the two jobs have a lot in common,” Sienkewicz said. “You have to read horses, watch their actions, and pick up on what they’re trying to tell you, whether you’re training or working the gate. It can save you in the gate and, as a trainer, can help you get the most out of an individual horse.”

Sienkewicz finished second to John Rigattieri in the trainers’ standings at Suffolk in 2013, winning 41 races while posting a 25 percent win rate. He has one winner from 14 starts at this meeting but said a number of his runners are out of conditions and he is still learning the nuances of Tampa Bay Downs’s sandy strip.

“It’s great here, and the people treat you well,” he said. “I love the surface, but I’m still feeling my way along, learning how to train over it. Hopefully, things will pick up as the meeting progresses, but it’s a great place to race.”

Name sounds familiar

Last Wednesday’s eighth race looked like one of the tougher maiden special weight sprints of the meeting, with horses coming off solid races at Gulfstream Park and Churchill Downs as well as some first-time starters from some very good stables. When the smoke cleared, a half-brother of a Tampa favorite got home first.

J’s Two Step Halo, from the Gerald Bennett barn, posted a hard-earned three-quarter-length win in his debut. Fans may remember his half-brother, J’s Sundance Halo, a stakes winner of $292,633 who ran some of best races at Tampa Bay Downs.

It was a good present for Bennett’s wife and partner, Mary, who was in Kentucky undergoing melanoma surgery. The surgery went well, and Mary was expected to be back in Oldsmar on Monday to begin her recovery. The melanoma was discovered when Mary, who is usually constantly in motion, complained of fatigue.

“When Mary tells you she’s tired and has to leave the track after just a few hours, something’s not right,” her husband said.

◗ Mike Allen, who has won more than 1,600 races in his career and brings the complete package as a rider, won a race each Saturday and Sunday and now has four wins at the meeting. Scott Spieth also had a good week, winning three races, including two Saturday, and now has seven wins at the meeting.